Dietetic interns organize biggest volunteer project in program's history

March 28, 2022
closeup of two women in hairnets on opposite sides of table scooping from large bins of rice
Volunteers came together March 19 to scoop, measure and pack nutritious meals to be distributed in Haiti. Photos provided

A pair of dietetic interns at the Medical University of South Carolina channeled their passion for kids’ nutrition into a communitywide volunteer project that ended with 40,000 meals packed for children in Haiti.

“I can’t believe that these two young ladies pulled this off – not that I had any doubt, but they did so much more than I expected,” said Kelley Martin, a registered dietitian and director of the dietetic intern program.

two women in green shirts that say Mission of Hope pose for the camera 
Kylie Purifoy and Elizabeth Uliana

Every year, 12 dietetic interns come to the Charleston campus to participate in the internship, each having completed a bachelor’s degree at a college that offers nutrition science. Before they can sit for the national registered dietitian exam, however, they must complete a clinical program and gain experience in a variety of settings. Sodexo, MUSC’s dining services contractor, offers the internship so the interns can gain experience in clinical settings. In addition, the interns do rotations in community settings like the Lowcountry Food Bank, dialysis clinics and with the WIC nutrition program.

Throughout the year, the interns also complete special projects. Kylie Purifoy and Elizabeth Uliana were charged with coordinating the project associated with National Nutrition Month, which is observed each March.

This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics decided that the theme of the month should be “Celebrate a world of flavors” – a theme that resonated with Purifoy.

Purifoy already knew she wanted to do something with the group Mission of Hope, which works in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the theme offered the perfect opportunity.

Purifoy first encountered Mission of Hope when she was an undergraduate at Texas A&M. She had experience with a number of mission groups, but Mission of Hope was unlike any group she had worked with.

“Nutrition is a pillar of their organization, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with it,” she said.

two young girls in hairnets work at a volunteer food packing table 
Purifoy and Uliana were thrilled with the number of volunteers at the meal packing event. Many of the volunteers brought their children to help.

The group distributes more than 100,000 meals each day to children in schools and orphanages in Haiti.

Purifoy and Uliana decided to organize a meal-packing event. They worked with Kids Against Hunger, a group that provides food to Mission of Hope. The packaged meals consist of vitamin-fortified crushed soy, dehydrated vegetables, a multivitamin powder and rice, ensuring complete nutrition in each meal. To package up these meals, groups can organize volunteers to scoop, measure and weigh the components.

Each meal costs 30 cents, which includes the cost of transportation to Haiti. To accomplish their goal, Purifoy and Uliana needed to raise money to pay for the meals and find volunteers to do the packing.

They more than accomplished their goal – they raised $12,000 and recruited 162 people to pack 40,000 meals.

“Those 40,000 meals will feed 200 kids for a full year of school lunches,” Uliana said.

Looking back at the event, Purifoy and Uliana are amazed that so many people volunteered their time. A couple of weeks before the packing event on March 19, they had only a few dozen volunteers. Purifoy and Uliana went into overdrive to spread the word about the event, talking about it in small groups at their churches, posting on local Facebook groups and including the event in newsletters on the MUSC campus.

“I think we were all really blown away by the way people stepped up,” Uliana said. “It was cool to see that come together.”

a photo from a balcony shows a large room filled with long tables, peoples in hairnets standing beside them listening to someone on a stage 
Volunteers receive instructions and learn about Mission of Hope's work.

The pair had expected the packing event to take about two and a half hours, but many hands made light work – everything was packed up in less than two hours.

With their intern year quickly wrapping up, the two are looking to their next steps. Both would like to work in pediatric dietetics.

Meanwhile, Martin said the intern group has never before completed such a large project. Next year’s group, she warned, will have large shoes to fill.


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